TARA'S JOURNEY

My Golden Mentor

I lost my dance teacher and mentor to ovarian cancer 8 years ago.  I was very aware, as a young girl, of what a positive impact Cathy had on my life.  And now as an adult, experiencing my own inner strength, growth and lens through which I look, I continue to see how Cathy’s ways influenced the deepest parts of me.  

Rooted in a deep spiritual practice of her own, she thoughtfully stepped towards inspiration, worked hard to protect her own happiness, and was able to hold a space of loving and understanding with me in a way that only one who walks that path can.  She was passionate, alive, dignified, graceful, earnest, honest, and a real friend.   

Her goal of building self esteem, while teaching dance to her students, was her core gift, and I received that message in every gesture, every class, every talk, both in the quiet moments just between us, and also during her inspirational talks to the group.  Dance was never about competition, attention or outside gain. It was only about sharing the best of ourselves, bringing joy to others, and enhancing the camaraderie of our community of dancers.  She was a dancer through and through, and the consummate performer who lit up the stage.  It didn’t matter how high her leg, or how many pirouettes, her heart burst with the joy and the love of dance.  

I remember her standing at the front of the classroom during my first jazz class at a mere seven years old, dancing to Michael Jackson’s PYT.  Her bright hair framing her face, the gold ballerina necklace that danced with her, and a knowing smirk that seemed to say “there’s nothing as good as dance.”  She invited me to the dance floor that day and I never looked back.  From a young girl with a rhythm for dance to a grown woman expressing my life through the professional arts, Cathy was with me every step of the way.  My teenage years, my college dance performances, my first Broadway show, my first tour, my first everything! 

I have a million stories, thousands of moments, hundred of cards with inspiring words, dozens and dozens of pictures of my life with Cathy.  I haven’t wept for her in a long time, but tonight I do.  Tears of gratitude for the gift of this amazing woman.  May we all be so lucky to have that beacon of light that reflects all the brightness within each of us.  I know how lucky I am.  Until we meet again . . . 

 

Cathy Gillaspie

Is

Golden

In my memory you stand ready to lead the troops.

You speak of the altruistic vision; and the heart of every dancer beats, sky above and earth below.

Our work, heart to stone, meets the vision.

Like the opening at the end of a labyrinth we feel reborn and alive.

Do you, a person of integrity and grace, feel the love that pours?

Like a song that penetrates and transcends, your impact stays and grows.

As you explore, as you strive, as you pray, as you receive, you share.

I ask for no more.  

Strongly you strive for a supreme life based on connection to source.

A bird . . . you are soaring, settling sometimes at the top of the mountain, but ready for the next adventure.

What a life.

I wish for you all that you give to me.  A flowing river, changing the rocks that it glides over day after day, year after year.  

Golden is always Golden.

                                    Cathy J. Gillaspie  

                                  Cathy J. Gillaspie 

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UPCOMING EVENTS

Love Letters, A Film

I had something I wanted to express, so I made a film.  Very excited to share it here. Immense gratitude to director Ron Hamad for your artistry, friendship and collaboration, to Kyle Hollar for cinematography, editor Curt Sova and my dance partner Scott Hislop.

Dancing with Pharrell

The song “Happy” plays in my house many times throughout the week, mostly on repeat while my 8 year old and almost 2 year old dance and twirl until they are dizzy and short of breath.  They say “again, again . . . ” and I can’t help but be brought into the dance party by the infectious joy of that song.  There is something about Pharrell Williams and his music that is so open, joyful and accessible, from young to old!  His style, presence, message is very inspiring to me and seeing how “Happy” has swept the world, I see most others feel the same.    

So, when I got a call to drive across town on a Friday afternoon in Los Angeles for an audition, instead of my response to my agent saying “no thank you, not in rush hour traffic”, as soon as I heard it was for Pharrell’s next music video, I said “I’ll be there”, and I made it happen.

After a super fun dance call to his new song “Come Get it Bae”, I showed up the following day to the call back and was brought in the room to dance by myself with Pharrell lounging on a couch with his beautiful wife beside him and uber chic and talented choreographer Fatima Robinson.  Not your typical audition with the artist beaming a huge smile from ear to ear while dancing for him and his crew.  He was gracious, present and very sweet.  I couldn’t help but smile and giggle back and just have a ball dancing to his tune.  So funny.  My daughters would be proud! :)   

Needless to say, I booked the job and had a blast that day!  Pharrell was super fun and so praising, kind, and cool. Love his music and very "happy" to be part of the dance.  Go on Pharrell!!!  Watch me and the gals get our dance on in the video below.

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Finding Neverland

In my twenties I traveled the world dancing, living out of a suitcase and flittering about from job to job, country to country.  No roots tied to any one place, just the adventures in front of me.  My favorite thing to do was to use my dance jobs as a spring board to more exploration.  A show in Singapore turned into a 10 day backpacking journey in Thailand with blue sunsets and the most warm, loving people.  A teaching job in Germany led me to the Black Forest and the Berlin Wall as it was falling.  And the misty, magical morning at Stonehenge, thanks to my time in London filming a movie, will forever be embedded in my mind and heart.  I’ve had so many quiet and beautiful moments scattered along our world.  I never questioned, I just leapt and let the moment take me.

And now, I have a family and two young daughters, a daily rhythm that is predictable and lovely in so many ways.  My dance and choreography work has kept me close and I’ve found a comfort and security in the deep roots that have grown.  But a new adventure has come my way and even though it’s a little daunting relocating my family for the summer and leaving the safety net of our beautiful bubble, I feel ready for the change and want to give my kids a new landscape to explore.  Sunsets with a different hue, as the light is new from place to place.  I do know that.       

I am going to be a part of the creative team for the musical Finding Neverland.  With rehearsals in New York City and a run at the prestigious American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge and plans for Broadway soon after, I am excited to be a part of this moving and inspiring story about love, possibilities, and the rich, fruitful world of our imagination.       

And so the adventure begins . . .

I Won't Give Up, A Film

It was incredibly inspiring being a part of this short dance film, honoring and celebrating the amazing and brave Donna Russo.  Donna has danced nearly all her life, but over the past seven years muscular dystrophy has taken away much of her ability to move.  Despite her condition, dance is still alive in her heart.

After sharing this film, the response was so positive and amazing.  The Abilities Expo, an event for people with disabilities, asked us to come perform this dance with Donna.  The expo is a celebration of what you can do and boy, is it inspiring!! 

On a concrete floor at the LA Convention Center, with no raised stage and no stage lights, we danced for a mostly wheelchair bound audience.  My heart filled with gratitude for the gift of life and the gift of dance, and I was humbled. 

The audience members were invited to join in learning a short dance with us after the performance.  All those who participated were in wheelchairs and I was so moved at how much passion, love, joy and openness was shared in their “restricted” movement.   

I was reminded of how healing dance is.  It connects us to our humanity, to our core.  It allows us an expression beyond words.  It allows us freedom!!  

Thank you to Donna for bringing me this opportunity and for my dance partner Kelleia Sheerin and choreographer Tam Warner.

Projects like these make me so proud to be a dancer, proud to be a human being. Gifts come in so many unexpected ways. 

And, check out what the dance team at Walk and Roll Foundation can do!!

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UPCOMING EVENTS

Interview with Tara

Last year I was interviewed by an amazing non-profit group called Mental Fitness, Inc.  Their mission is to build mental fitness in all youth.  Their blog site, The Real Deal, shares empowering content authored by professionals from the arts, wellness, nutrition, yoga and psychology, with the aim to help today's youth on body image, healthy coping, nutrition and self-esteem.

I didn't know that this interview would eventually stir a deeper calling in me to share my stories and some of the tools that have helped me find balance, self-acceptance and greater joy along my performing arts path as a dancer and choreographer.  This particular interview inspired me to start my blog.  

I have copied the full interview here for you to read and I want to thank Robyn Hussa for all the amazing work she does and for asking for my thoughts. 

xo Tara

INTERVIEW:

RH: Please tell us about yourself and what you do?

TNH: I am a dancer/choreographer.  I started dancing at age 9 at a local studio in Orlando, Florida.  I walked in the door, hearing and feeling the vibration of music and seeing bodies in motion and I never walked out.  I trained under an AMAZING woman named Cathy Gillaspie, who guided me, mentored me and inspired me.  I went on to a full dance scholarship at Loyola Marymount Manhattan College in NYC and eventually moved to Los Angeles to fulfill my dream to work as a dancer and choreographer in film, television, commercials and stage.  I’ve had an extraordinary career working alongside the most inspired artists including Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Zeta Jones and Madonna among others.

RH: Can you tell us a bit about any upcoming shows that you are working on?

TNH: I choreographed a series of commercials for Faith Hill earlier this year and have an Al Pacino film called Danny Collins that will be released in 2015, that I choreographed.  He was lovely to work with and I had a ball!  I’m also really enjoying choreographing for a new show called Trophy Wife with Malin Akerman and Marcia Gay Harden that begins airing this September on ABC.  It’s a very funny show that I am proud to be a part of.  I’ve also been dancing, completing work on The Neighbors, Grey’s Anatomy and a really cool commercial for Samsung on The Voice.

RH: Do you find the pressures of being performer / artist significant with regard to feeling the need to have a “perfect” body?  If so, how do you navigate through that terrain?  How do you “not” judge yourself when others (critics, audience members, producers, etc.) “judge” you based on outward measures?

TNH: Well, I have chosen a career where image and body is at the forefront.  I wish that we could all just dance, act, sing and express ourselves artfully without the scrutiny of how we look, but unfortunately it is the whole package that we are auditioning for and selling, ultimately. Being at the top of my game means that I am well trained and bring my talent to the room, but it also means that I am able to help facilitate the vision of the director, writers, ad agencies, etc.  When I walk into an audition room, it’s not about me anymore, which I know sounds counter-intuitive.

Starting to choreograph and being on the other side of the audition table has helped me with this immensely!!!  Mostly it’s just NOT a personal thing.  Sometimes casting just needs one blonde, one brunette and a redhead or they are looking for someone with a specific quality or essence that gels well with an actor.  This revelation was HUGE for me.  I’ve learned, all I can do as a performer is my best, including dancing with everything I’ve got, having my head shots up to date, wearing the appropriate clothes, being in tune with what hair and make-up works best for me and most importantly, being authentically me in the room.  After that, it is out of my hands.

There will be feedback and messages along the way that will inform me and if I’m smart I will make adjustments but thankfully I’ve come to this . . . who I am at my core, my value, my worth, my beauty, my true SELF is separate and independent of the needs of a project and those who are hiring me and critiquing me.

I can’t say it’s always easy for me but being gentle and kind with myself is helpful when disappointments and feelings of rejection come up, when you want something so badly and it doesn’t work out.  Letting the sad, angry, jealous, disappointing emotions out is the first way for me to move through it.  Then I can look at the bigger picture and trust that I am ok and supported and loved.  And then sometimes I just have to put on the music, and dance . . .

RH: Who were the role models in your life?

TNH: Primarily my dance teacher Cathy who I mentioned earlier.  She was an extraordinary woman who was in touch with her own inner beauty and light.  Herpositive leadership came in the form of inspirational talks, informing us aboutfeeding our bodies with healthy foods, dancing from our heart and soul, sharing our gifts with others and those in need and a real essence of love.

She was inspired and she knew how to inspire the goodness and the altruistic qualities in me and I believe in my dance friends.  Never did she focus on weight or body image.  It was only about the love of dance, working hard and the camaraderie of our company of dancers.  I am forever thankful for her and know, without a doubt,  she helped shape who I am in a large and positive way during that oh so influential and vulnerable time in my life; she helped me focus my mind on my inner experience and so whatever outer work happened, it was an extension of the love and passion for my craft.

I know this is a gift because I’ve seen other studios, other shows, other experiences and it is not that.

RH:  What do you define as beautiful?

TNH: What is authentically true.  When I see and experience others share their authentic selves, I see that as beautiful and I feel most beautiful when I am in a place of acceptance and love.

RH: How do you define inner beauty?

TNH: The inner world is such a private and beautiful oasis.  What a gift to have the convening of self, that place that is so expansive where anything is possible.  Inner beauty is that gentleness with oneself.  That place deep inside where you become the comfort, where you have the chance to align to your higher purpose.

RH: What is happiness?

TNH: Happiness is what you choose it to be.  Is the glass half full or is it half empty?  Is this an opportunity or are you victim to your circumstances?  Do you have the courage to step fully into yourself?

RH: How do you manage your stress levels in daily life?  Do you use music / art / dance, etc. as a coping tool?  Are there other things that you do to live mindfully?

TNH: Things that bring me the most peace are being in nature, meditating and surrounding myself with beautiful things like paintings, music and art.  I love color, design and composition.  I think it’s important for each of us to find what speaks to our soul and go to that for comfort and inspiration.

Music is an incredible vehicle for me for feeling inspired and getting me in touch with my emotional life.  I also have this thing that I’ve been doing for a long time and it ALWAYS frees me, ALWAYS takes me to a place of self empowerment.  If I feel nervous or stressed about an audition, work scenario or any life situation, I set a very clear intention about how I’d like to experience myself within that particular situation.  

I don’t worry about the steps to get there, I only focus on the intention and I let the Universe take care of the rest.  It’s kind of like that Albert Einstein quote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.  I have to trust in the larger picture and my larger self, the part of me that is completely open, fluid, receptive, wise, expansive and all knowing.  I know this probably sounds so new age and lofty, but there is real power there; I experience it daily!

RH: How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, a mom, a professional — what are keys to balance?

TNH: To be honest, it is a challenge for me.  I want to be a present, available, loving mommy, an amazing partner, a successful career woman, and a whole, happy individual.  Each of those spokes of my life takes patience, love, clarity of direction, time and commitment.  Luckily I have an amazing man in my life.  He is a beautiful artist and supports my work completely and understands the limitations of balancing it all.  It is a lot of work and we are still learning.  What has helped is asking for help and choosing to be present with whatever task is at hand.  Putting the work away when we’re with the kids.

Finding time to dive fully into the work when it is time.  Sometimes our house is complete chaos and other times it is just magical with Rob at the piano, dancing happening and a lot of laughter.  I’m still learning to relax and find the play and joy, even in the midst of the juggling circus act.  The one thing I do know is the importance of “me” time and “us” time. I think those are great lessons to teach our daughters.

RH: Other thoughts / reflections?

TNH:  I reflect often on how blessed I feel for the group of amazing, inspiring friends around me.  I call them my “tribe” and they have become my family.  I feel lifted, supported, seen and understood by them.  I am constantly inspired and moved by their courage and faith and artistry.  If one can surround themselves with those that bring light and positivity, thinking outside the box in an empowering way, it is a gift.  That support system makes life a little sweeter . . . and certainly more fun!  

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